Thursday, December 21, 2017

Magic for Nothing (Incryptid #6) by Seanan McGuire

Antimony Price, youngest of the Price siblings is Not Happy. I mean, she’s never been her older sister Verity’s biggest fan but after she effectively declared war on the Covenant and revealed their continued existence to their old enemy she’s effectively put the whole continent - and her family in particular - at risk

They need to know what the Covenant is planning. They need a spy - and Antimony is the only current family member who doesn’t LOOK like a Price, she has to be the one to do it.

Of course being American - and with her skillset in travelling fairs - she’s also prime recruitment material for the Covenant which has never succeeded in getting a foothold in the US… but being a Price pretending to be Covenant pretending to be a performer certainly doesn’t make things simple

To me this book really proved just how well established and developed the main characters of this series are.

Because I didn’t like Antimony at the beginning of this book - I actively disliked her. Why? Because she doesn’t like her sister Verity and is very angry with her. I’ve read 3 books with Verity as the protagonist; I’ve followed her story, I’ve invested in her, I’ve cheered her on, I’ve loved the Arboreal Priestess. So when Antimony expresses her dislike I’m here on a firm “Excuse you, are you coming for my lady, Verity?! Oh hell no, you go through me Annie!”

Because this is how good those books were and how good Verity is: I’d invested in her sufficiently that I have a knee-jerk need to stand up for her against another fictional character.

(And, honestly, I’m not entirely over it by the end of the book - because while I didn’t dislike Antimony by the end, I still very much like Alex and Verity more).

I quickly grew to like Antimony, of course, because she’s also awesome and her beef with Verity is based on reason. I don’t agree with all of it but there’s more of a kernel of truth to it and it also underlines the great differences between the two sisters (It also means we can look back at Verity and Alex and their opinions of Antimony and see their views of their hostile and excessively violent sister are in turn skewed). Antimony has never had the same conflict as her sister. She has always known who she is and what she wants to be. She has takes her duty and family legacy extremely seriously alongside her dedication to weaponry and skills; she never had Verity’s conflict over what she actually wanted to be and do. Her views of her sister come from this lens and they’re not wrong - nor entirely right - but from such very different perspectives.

From that nuance I also love Antimony’s work with the Covenant. This is the first time we got to see inside the Covenant and learned a lot more about their training regime, their obsession with bloodlines and more of their hatred of all things supernatural and cryptid. I like the way they’re balanced - I expected them to be shown as human rather than cackling maniacal monsters, that kind of is expected now. I even expected Antimony to be somewhat sympathetic to a couple of characters (especially the layers of complexity towards her cousin, the Covenant loyalist who is treated appallingly simply because of the Price family’s defection). But so often when you have these “oh look the evil bigots are human!” it’s used to forgive or forget their bigotry and evil (a habit followed by news media as much as books). But while Antimony can see the humanity of the Covenant, at every single point of introspection she remembers that these people want to murder other sentient creatures just because of what they are. That is never forgotten, that is never downplayed no matter how human the covenant can be. Newspapers should take note.

I also like how it really highlights the viewpoint of the Price family - from looking on a classic picture of George slaying the dragon and seeing the horror of a murderer killing a sentient being just because of its species. While also being clear that the Price’s are themselves not all fluffy and kind - when she finds a clear murderous cryptid she doesn’t hesitate to fight and kill. But even then we have an excellent piece of examinations as to the why - including isolation and lack of knowledge of how to BE a cryptid when most of your species have been wiped out.

Nothing is taken simplistically - the causes and effects are examined and questioned and the cryptids are treated as people. Even a cryptid that eats people will get the Price family asking “well why is it eating people?”

This is this excellent world setting that really works with perfectly developed characters to create something truly fascinating - all the while with a good amount of fun action and hijinks. I also love how much research and thought is put into things like giving Antimony a cover identity - all these little details really make the story real. And it’s why I love them so much (and the Aislinn Mice of course. Hail!)

Is there a downside…? I think there’s a floppiness in the middle of the book. Like Antimony has infiltrated the Covenant and now is in this travelling fair pretending to be a performer. And… and what? I mean, if she didn’t start throwing rocks at her cover, what was her end game here? She barely communicated to her family about anything she learned about the Covenant (numbers, training methods, prominent members, definite plans for North America?) nor did any real sabotage. There’s just a section of this book which feels directionless and I’m confused as to what is actually supposed to be being achieved here.

We have an excellent female protagonist and while the focus is very very very much on her, there are certainly other women of the story who are both worthy of respect AND respected by Antimony - not least of which the owner of the fair herself. We have some POC in minor roles - a South Asian and an East Asian cryptid travelling with the carnival but the second most prominent character in the book is an Asian man of Japanese descent, a cryptid and also with actual personality that makes him a full character (one of my previous complaints about

We do have a very brief appearance at the beginning of the book of one of Antimony’s cousins who is a lesbian or bisexual woman… but this pretty much sums up the entirety of her presence.

This is rapidly becoming a series that begins to make me nervous.

It makes me nervous because a part of me recognises that one day this series will end and make my reading life considerably worse because of it. One of the reasons I love the Urban Fantasy Genre is I love these epic series of several books developing characters and worlds and histories and storylines, becoming richer and more powerful and deeper with each installment (well until they end or spiral off into some terrible terrible shark-jumping depths). The Incryptid series is one of those still rising, still building something awesome with each book and still making me eagerly reach out for the next one. This is a series that will always have a definite place on my metaphorical shelf.

And, as always, Hail the Aislinn Mice! Hail the Precise Priestess! HAIL!